IF a dose of humility and a healthy right shoulder were all that was needed to help Vasiliy Lomachenko produce his latest masterwork inside the brightly lit plateau of the boxing ring, his goal of reclaiming his old seat atop the lightweight kingdom may materialise quicker than anyone had previously thought.
The Ukrainian whizz was in prime form on Saturday night, battering tall and rugged Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani from pillar to post en route to earning a technical knockout at 1-48 of the ninth round (set for 12) in their lightweight bout at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
It was the first time in Nakatani’s career that he was beaten inside the distance.
The end arrived in brilliantly violent fashion. After staggering Nakatani with a left hand to the head, Lomachenko followed up moments later with a hard straight left to the solar plexus that instantly turned Nakatani’s legs into Play-Doh. From that point on, Lomachenko cranked up his offence, unleashing a barrage of punches before a left hand finally forced Nakatani to his knee, prompting referee Celestino Ruiz to jump in and halt the bout.
Lomachenko led on all the judges’ scorecards (80-71, 80-71 and 78-73) at the time of the stoppage.
“I met all of my goals,” Lomachenko said post-fight. “I did everything I wanted to do in the ring tonight. I am back.”
There was a high degree of scrutiny concerning this fight given that it was Lomachenko’s first appearance in the ring since his upset loss to Teofimo Lopez in October, which saw the Ukrainian southpaw give up his three lightweight titles. Moreover, there were questions about the condition of his right shoulder, which he reportedly injured prior to the Lopez fight and for which he needed surgery afterward.
If Saturday night was any indication, the shoulder is copacetic.
Lomachenko, 33, displayed all of his pyrotechnic abilities, from pinpoint left hands to those famous pirouettes that had Nakatani, who boasted a five-inch height advantage, craning his neck at times trying to keep up with his elusive opponent. And unlike in the Lopez fight, Lomachenko did not take six rounds to mount a meaningful salvo. In fact, it only took a minute this time around.
In the opening round, with his lanky foe leaning against the ropes, Lomachenko pivoted to his right and uncorked a ramrod left hand that sent Nakatani’s head sailing beyond the ropes. Point taken: There would be no slow start on this night for the Ukrainian.
By the seventh round, Nakatani – who was sent to the canvas in the fifth – was bleeding from the nose and his right eye was already fairly swollen. The 32-year-old’s main tactic was to hold. Save for a few right hands that strayed low, the only time the Japanese fighter might have imperiled Lomachenko was in the first round, when a clash of heads opened up a cut on the top of Lomachenko’s head, near the hairline. But thanks to the handiwork of his cutman, Russ Abner, the gash never became a serious problem.
After the fight, Lomachenko began beating the drums loudly for a rematch against Lopez, suggesting that a date in the winter would be ideal.
“Please win your [next] fight and let’s make a rematch,” Lomachenko said.
On the Top Rank undercard, highly regarded Kazakh middleweight Janibek Alimkhanuly notched the most significant win of his nascent career with a breezy demolition of contender Rob Brant, forcing the Minnesotan into a corner retirement at the conclusion of the eighth round (set for 10).
All three judges had the 28-year-old Kazakh winning every round up until that point.
It was a walk in the park for the southpaw Alimkhanuly, a decorated amateur who represented his home country in the Olympics. His superior pedigree showed on this night. The upstart repeatedly connected on stiff straight lefts that had the effect of completely neutralising Brant’s offence.
Showing little imagination or inclination to adapt, the veteran was uncharacteristically gun-shy and spent most of the time circling clockwise around his opponent. It was a stark contrast to the performance that Brant put on in 2018, when he upset Ryota Murata on the heels of an aggressive, high-output offence. Of course, Alimkhanuly’s left crosses may have had something to do with his curiously lacklustre outing. During one point in the fourth round, Brant simply shook his head in dismay after eating one of those left hands. It was all downhill for the American at that point.
In the sixth round, Alimkhanuly scored the lone knockdown of the fight, a crisp left hand that landed squarely on the chin of Brant. After a delayed reaction, Brant took a knee.
Battered but still willing to engage, Brant, 30, showed some signs of life in round seven by connecting on a couple of right hands. But it was an anomalous moment. The eighth round saw Alimkhanuly land one clean shot after another on Brant, including a well-timed uppercut. When Brant returned to his corner, his trainer, Brian McIntyre, instructed referee Michael Ortega to wave off the bout.
Italian heavyweight prospect Guido Vianello returned to winning ways with a stoppage – via the body – of 37-year-old Louisianan Marlon Williams in the second round of their four-round bout. Vianello, 27, scored three knockdowns over Williams in the opening round, with his right hand doing damage to Williams’ left flank. Referee Ortega officially stopped the bout at 0-01 of round two. Vianello struggled against middling Kingsley Ibeh in October, settling for a draw.
THE VERDICT Lomachenko shows that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Vasiliy Lomachenko (134 1/2lbs), 15-2 (11), w rsf 9 Masayoshi Nakatani (134 1/2lbs), 19-2 (13); Janibek Alimkhanuly (159 3/4lbs), 10-0 (6), w rtd 8 Rob Brant (159 1/2lbs), 26-3 (18); Giovani Santillan (147 1/2lbs), 27-0 (15), w pts 8 Cecil McCalla (147 1/2lbs), 23-5 (10); Luis Fernando Saavedra (118 3/4lbs), 9-6 (3), w pts 6 Robert Rodriguez (118 3/4lbs), 9-1-1 (5); Floyd Diaz (117 3/4lbs), 2-0, w pts 4 Jaime Jasso (116 1/4lbs), 2-1; Guido Vianello (244lbs), 8-0-1 (8), w rsf 2 Marlon Williams (217 1/2lbs), 6-2 (3); Subaru Murata (121 1/2lbs), 1-0 (1), w rsf 2 Kevin Monroy (119 3/4lbs), 1-2 (1); DeMichael Harris (134 1/4lbs), 4-0 (4), w rsf 3 Jonatan Hernan Godoy (134 1/4lbs), 5-9.